A petting zoo is a wonderful, enlightening, and educational experience for children and adults. A belief that there are potential health hazards should not keep your children from enjoying the opportunity to interact with animals. Children need to be taught compassion and understanding for animals, and the best way to do this is through one on one contact. While it is true that animals can carry germs and diseases, the same goes for people. The best way to protect you and your child from potential health hazards is obvious, "wash your hands." We wash our hands daily after many activities. We work in the yard, do dishes, play with the cat or dog, cook dinner, and clean the house. It is common sense to wash our hands in these situations because we know of the potential for germs. The same common sense should be applied to visiting a petting zoo. As an additional service to the public, we post signs reminding people to wash their hands, and we also provide Purell hand sanitizer. While hand sanitizer is effective, the best defense against germs is to wash your hands with warm water and soap.
E-coli is not a new threat, and most strains of e-coli are harmless. There are even forms of e-coli that we cannot live without that reside in the intestines of people and animals. There is, however, a very harmful strain, E. coli O157:H7. This form of e-coli can lead to abdominal cramps, severe bloody diarrhea, in a small number of cases of kidney failure, and extremely rare cases of death. E-coli can be easily picked up from eating, drinking, smoking, and touching a surface or an animal that carries e-coli and then touching your mouth. Most e-coli infections are from eating undercooked meats or unwashed fruits. Illness can occur in persons of any age, but those who are immune deficient, elderly, or very young (under the age of 5) are most prone to infection. Not all animals carry E. coli O157:H7. There really is no way to tell if a petting zoo has this form of e-coli, but the cleaner the animals and the zoo environment is the better. For more detailed information, visit the Center for Disease Control Website at www.cdc.gov.
The best way to keep you and your child safe, healthy, and experiencing all the little wonders that life has to offer.